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President Eisenhower, the Masters and the Washington Senators

President Eisenhower throws out the first pitch at Griffith Stadium on April 17, 1956. From left to right: Nationals manager Chuck Dressen, Assistant Secretary of State Thurston B. Morton, President Eisenhower, Senators President Calvin Griffith, Yankees manager Casey Stengel and secretary to the President Bernard M. Shanley. (The Washington Post)

Long before the Masters became known as a tradition unlike any other, the tagline could have applied to the ceremonial first pitch by the president on opening day in Washington, or Dwight D. Eisenhower’s yearly trip to Augusta National at the conclusion of the tournament. Those two traditions clashed on more than one occasion during Eisenhower’s eight years in office.

The Senators were scheduled to open the 1953 season on April 13. Eisenhower passed on the opportunity to throw out the first pitch to play golf with Masters champion Ben Hogan at Augusta instead. “I would like to see his first love be baseball,” National League president Warren C. Giles told reporters, “but I think he’s entitled to do what he wants these days.”

The Senators’ opener was rained out and Eisenhower announced that he would return to throw out the first pitch at the rescheduled game on April 16. Senators president Clark C. Griffith was “tickled to death.”

Eisenhower threw out the first pitch at Griffith Stadium in 1954 and 1955, but his availability as the 1956 season approached was in doubt. On Feb. 6, the Senators announced that they were moving their opener against the New York Yankees up one day, and speculation was rampant that the switch was made to ensure that Eisenhower would be present.

Senators’ Opener Moved Up A Day

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (AP) – The official opening of the 1956 baseball season today was moved up one day, leading to speculation that President Eisenhower planned a trip out of town on Tuesday, April 17.

That was the date originally scheduled for the opener between the Washington Senators and New York Yankees. But today the participants, as well as American League headquarters, decided to move up the game to Monday, April 16.

Spokesmen for the Senators first declined comment on why the change was made but later said the reason was a desire to point up the games as the solo season-opener.

It is known, however, that Eisenhower likes to make trips South in April. And on at least one occasion since he took office he left before the regularly scheduled opening game.

Two weeks later, the game was moved back to its originally scheduled date.

Senators’ Opener is Moved Again

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18 (AP) – The Washington Senators had to reverse themselves today and move their opening-day game with the New York Yankees back to the original date – April 17.

President Eisenhower still is expected to throw out the first ball, although there has been no definite announcement from the White House.

Two weeks ago it was announced that the game was being advanced one day to April 16. The official reason was that the change was designed to give this game a one-day jump on other big league openers. But there was some speculation then that it was done to accommodate President Eisenhower, who usually takes a vacation at Augusta, Ga., about that time of year.

The explanation for restoring the game to its original date was that certain commercial (radio and television) commitments had to be met.

It was believed, however, that the original switch and the about-face resulted from a mix-up in dates involving Mr. Eisenhower’s annual spring trip to Augusta. The President usually goes to Augusta immediately after the Masters tournament ends. This year it ends April 8 – somewhat earlier than usual.

Eisenhower threw out the first pitch before the Senators’ 10-4 loss to the Yankees. As Evelyn Hayes noted in the Post, Eisenhower “set the fashion pace for men wearing a raincoat, a felt hat and an Army muffler wrapped around his neck.”

If only he had gone with a green jacket.

The Washington Post
Scott Allen writes about all things D.C. sports. Follow him on Twitter @ScottSAllen or e-mail him if you’ve got a tip to share.
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